Hieroglyph of Truth

Have you ever wondered how the giraffe is a hieroglyph of truth? Let Charles Fourier explain:

“I shall not say much about the peacock here, since this hieroglyph is difficult to interpret without knowing the laws of Social Movement. Let us turn instead to a figure which is easier to understand, that of truth and its effects in Civilisation. Let us examine whether God has faithfully depicted the sad fate of truth in our social state.

“The hieroglyph of truth in the animal kingdom is the giraffe. Since the characteristic of truth is to surmount error, the animal that represents it must be able to raise his head higher than all the others: this the giraffe can do, as it browses on branches 18 feet above the ground. It is, in the words of one ancient author, “a most fine animal, gentle and agreeable to the eye”. Truth is also most fine, but as it is incapable of harmonising with our customs, its hieroglyph, the giraffe, must be incapable of helping humans in their work; thus God has reduced it to insignificance by giving it an irregular gait which shakes up and damages any burden it might be called upon to bear. As a result we prefer to leave it to inaction, just as nobody will employ a truthful man, whose character runs counter to all accepted customs and desires. Truth is only beautiful in our society when it is inactive, and the giraffe, by analogy, is only admirable when it is at rest: when it walks or runs it provokes jeers, as truth provokes jeers when it takes a practical form. If a man were to go to a party in high society and speak out openly and truthfully about the escapades of the fine ladies there, or about the shady dealings of the businessmen or other men in the salon, there would be an outburst of indignation, and all present would agree in remaining silent about it and reviling the speaker. Matters are much worse in politics, where truth has even less play: thus to represent the way truth is repressed, God has cut the giraffe’s horns down to their roots, so that they are no more than sprouts, permanently unable to branch up into antlers; God’s chisel has cut them off at their base, in the same way as, in our society, the chisel of authority and public opinion has cut down truth to its mere emergence, forbidding it to develop further. Yet even the most deceitful among us still want to seem truthful, and although we are enemies of truth, we want to deck ourselves out in its dress: by analogy, the only thing we want from the giraffe is its dress, its skin, which is extremely beautiful; so when we catch one we treat it rather as we treat truth. We say to it, “Poor beast, you are good for nothing but to remain in the desert, far form the society of man; we may admire you for a little while, but in the end we must kill you and keep only your skin, just as we stifle truth and keep only its outward appearance.”

“From this explanation we can see that God has created nothing without a purpose, even the giraffe which is supremely useless, but as God was obliged to represent all aspects of our passions, he had to use this animal to depict the complete uselessness of truth in Civilisation. If you wish to know what purposes truth will serve in societies other than Civilisation, study this problem in the counter-giraffe, which we call the reindeer, an animal which provides us with every service imaginable: you will see that God has excluded it from these social climates, from which truth will also be excluded for as long as Civilisation lasts.

“And when the societary order has enabled us to become adept at the use of truth and the virtues which are excluded from our lives at present, a new creation will provide us, in the anti-giraffe, with a great and magnificent servant whose qualities will far surpass the good qualities of the reindeer, which so excites our envy and arouses our anger at nature for having deprived us of it.”

From Charles Fourier, The Theory of the Four Movements, edited by Gareth Stedman Jones and Ian Patterson, Cambridge University Press 1996, pp.283-4.

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